[Editor's Note: Le-Vel is suing me for the article below. I have provided this information so that you can make an informed decision. This lawsuit has the potential to bankrupt my family. Though it is a frivolous lawsuit, I still need to hire lawyers to defend myself. Please visit the GoFundMe campaign to the right to read more. If you can spare some money so that I can continue to help others that would be awesome. If not, I'd appreciate it if you could share the campaign on social media.]
About 6 weeks ago, regular reader Jason wrote me:
"[My neighbor] has started this 'Thrive' regiment with a patch, a pill, and perhaps some other lifestyle changes, and posts daily pictures of herself on Facebook to 'document' her progress with weight-loss. To me, this looks to be just another one of the plethora of scams and schemes out there. What do you know about this 'company'? Perhaps you've already written articles on it that I wasn't aware of. If not... perhaps this could be one to look into and write about for future articles.
Earlier this month, Talkng Points Memo wrote a great article about MLM which featured a Le-vel distributor: How Utah Became a Bizarre, Blissful Epicenter for Get-Rich-Quick Schemes
So let's dig in and see what we can learn about Le-vel Thrive.
THRIVE Premium Lifestyle DFT™ Patch
The aforementioned Talking Points Memo article gives an introduction to the Thrive patch. It is as good a place to start as any:
"After a week of wearing the Thrive nutritional patch, Denise Holbrook discovered what seemed like superhuman strength. When her husband fainted outside of a hospital, she caught him. 'How the hell am I holding up a 200-pound man by myself?' she remembers thinking... In a post, she announced that she thought it would be selfish not to share the supplement, considering it had allowed her to stop taking anti-anxiety medication and stay awake after sleepless nights amid her husband’s deterioration."
The article continues:
Still, few dietary supplements have the kind of negative reviews that Thrive does, and many have been evaluated with much more thoroughness by the scientific community. (Q Sciences, for instance, claims its products are backed by research at 15 universities.) So why do distributors choose Thrive, in spite of so many stories about sketchy side effects?
When pressed by the author, Denise Holbrook said, “It’s a lot of mind-over-matter."
So much to process here:
- There's the obvious adrenaline that would explain holding up a 200-pound man. Also she isn't picking the man off the ground, a majority of his weight was probably still supported.
- There's the typical unbelievable claims that accompanies many MLM companies according to a Huffington Post article.
- The claims appear to violate the FTC endorsement guidelines of "Using Testimonials That Don’t Reflect the Typical Consumer Experience."
- The claims may also violate the FDA rules of marketing supplements. I do not believe that Le-Vel Thrive Patch is an FDA-approved treatment for anxiety. These types of claims have gotten other MLMs like DoTERRA in trouble with the FDA.
That's just the stuff from the first quote block. The second quote block highlights the bad reputation Thrive has. The ensuing quote about it being "mind-over-matter" seems to suggest that the Thrive Patch may be the same as the Dove Beauty Patch:
If you intend to watch the video do it now, because I'm going to give some spoilers.
It turns out that the Dove Beauty Patch has no ingredients. Yet all the women were going on and on about "life altering" the patch was and how they'd buy it.
Thrive's website about the patch says: "The DFT™ formula supports the metabolic rate, promoting clean and healthy weight management without aiding in muscle breakdown or deterioration - like a majority of weight loss products available."
I'm curious what "dirty" weight management may be if the patch is about clean weight management. Nonetheless, the FTC makes it clear how they feel about weight loss patches:
"Lose weight with our miracle diet patch or cream! You’ve seen the ads for diet patches or creams that claim to melt away the pounds. Don’t believe them. There’s nothing you can wear or apply to your skin that will cause you to lose weight."
So don't take my word for it, take the FTC's.
The same Thrive website says, "Our all natural nutritional formula, combined with our DFT™ delivery system, infuses the derma (skin) with a THRIVE Lifestyle Formula, different than the Capsule & Shake formula. The result is a time released delivery and absorption rate superior to most consumable products."
However, according to this Wall Street Journal article, you can't really know if a patch is working without well-designed clinical trials. From a logical standpoint, I know ketchup is getting in my system when I eat it. A ketchup patch? Well, my confidence level in that is close to zero.
Of course, the patch alone would be too easy. Thrive website says, "Individuals using the THRIVE Premium DFT™, in conjunction with THRIVE Premium Lifestyle Capsule™, THRIVE Premium Lifestyle Shake Mix™, and the THRIVE 8 Week Experience™, will experience ultra premium results, unrivaled in regards to Nutrition, Weight Management, and Fitness."
So let's look at the Thrive Capsule and Thrive Shake Mix
What is the THRIVE Premium Lifestyle Capsule™?
Le-vel's website on THRIVE M (the men's capsule) says, "THRIVE M is a premium formula and a premium approach to your daily lifestyle. Developed from years of experience, science, and perfecting, THRIVE M is the only premium lifestyle capsule of its kind."
For those keeping track that's SEVEN uses of the word "premium" in only THREE quoted sentences (going back to the last heading). Someone get Le-vel a thesaurus. It's easy to call something premium, but that doesn't make it so.
Thrive M is essentially a multivitamin with a proprietary blend of ingredients which you can see here. The vitamins and minerals are unexciting. With only 11 vitamins and minerals with an RDA daily value, you can do better with many other products. They don't even put vitamin C or vitamin E in it. You can do much better with Kirkland Signature Daily Multi Vitamins & Minerals Tablets (which provides more than 100% of each).
That Kirkland vitamin & minerals costs around 3 cents a pill (at the time of article publishing). For a full year it would cost $12.45.
In sharp contrast, Thrive M - Premium Lifestyle Capsules Mens is on Amazon for $62.50 for a 30 day supply. That's $2.08 a day or $760.42 a year.
So it appears you can spend $12.45 a year for a complete multivitamin or you can spend $760.42 a year for an incomplete one.
Reflect on that for a moment. You can pay more than 50 times more money and get less value by going with Le-vel's product.
To make matters worse, it is scientifically proven that vitamin and mineral supplements are unnecessary for the general population. See this journal article: Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements. As the article notes, vitamin and mineral supplements could even be harmful. The science has gotten exhaustive and it increasing says that most people shouldn't be buying supplements.
A strong case could be made that you shouldn't buy either product. However, if you are going to buy one, the choice should be very obvious. I'd rather spend $12 over $760 any day.
I'm not being entirely fair in this comparison. Thrive M has a proprietary blend in addition to vitamins and minerals. Actually in fairness the Kirkland vitamins do as well (Ginseng at least from the description).
The problem with proprietary blends is that you don't know how much of what you are getting. This isn't like the Colonel's secret recipe or Coca-cola's recipe that are meant to taste good. This is your health. You should know what you are paying for. However, even if you knew how much you were getting of the ingredients, they may not benefit you. I didn't see much in the proprietary formula that had the science behind it to show the FDA it had real benefits. That's a list of approved health claims from supplements.
What is the Thrive Premium Lifestyle Mix™?
The third product is the Thrive Shake Mix. It seems that every MLM/pyramid scheme needs to have a shake mix nowadays. I've covered a few with Beachbody's Shakeology, One24's NutraBurst, and ViSalus' Vi-Shake.
Thrive's marketing of the mix shouldn't surprise anyone: "THRIVE Mix, combined daily with the THRIVE Capsules and DFT™, completes a premium lifestyle, and a premium you." I guess they had a few more "premium" mentions in there to get off their chest.
Thrive seems to want you to buy all three products. Fortunately the shake has many of the vitamins and minerals that were missing from the multivitamin above. Or should I say unfortunately, because then you have to buy two products to make up the void in one... and you still aren't getting much vitamin C and vitamin E.
On Amazon, Thrive Premium Shake Mix costs $45 for 16 servings. That's $2.81 a serving. That's really, really expensive for a shake. You could get Spiru-Tein Shake which is about a dollar a serving and has many, many glowing reviews. It might not seem like much, but it is the difference between spending more than $1000 a year on a shake or $350. How many other articles have you read today that saved you $650 a year?
MLMs love shakes and it is easy to understand why. Supplement protein, fiber, and multivitamins are extremely cheap. You can get 24 grams of protein with Optimum Nutrition Whey Protein. At $0.77 a serving and nearly 10,000 awesome reviews on Amazon it seems to be a great value... especially considering that Thrive only has 15 grams of protein. For fiber, you can buy this Benefiber (switch to the 500 gram size). At $20, you'll get 500 servings of 3 grams of fiber (1500 grams total). The 5 grams of fiber in Thrive shakes would cost you 6.6 cents (we'll round up to $0.07).
Finally, there's Optimum Nutrition Opti-Men Supplement. I can currently buy 240 pills (80 servings) for $22.88 (my Subscribe and Save price) or $0.36 a serving. Opti-Men seems to blow away the vitamins and minerals in both of Thrive's mix and the capsules put together. It even includes it's own proprietary blend, just in case Thrive supporters wanted to play the card that there's other stuff of value in the products.
Between the three products, you'd spend less than a dollar a day to replace about $5 a day of Thrive shake and capsules. That saves you around $1200 a year. Add in the savings of avoiding the patch and it's nearly $2000 in your pocket every year!
What others are saying
In an effort to provide you with the best information, here are a couple of other sources worth reading.
Truth In Advertising
Truth in Advertising is one of my favorite websites because they, like me, highlight the bits of misleading marketing that consumers should be aware of. The non-profit is truly one of the great unbiased organizations out there looking out for consumer's best interests.
They've twice written about Le-Vel Thrive and each is a great resource:
Registered Dietitian Abby Langer
Abby Langer writes a scathing review of Le-Vel. Here are some of the highlights:
"The greatest branding can’t hide a faulty product, even if you declare that product as ‘premium’... One thing I think you should know is that there has never been any research done to verify that THRIVE works... Wherever they came from, testimonials are really not worth the paper (or computer) they’re written on. What’s really worth something is some good solid research on the product. Search high and low, but you won’t find any on THRIVE. There is none...
I’m not sure what all natural, clean, and healthy weight management is, but congratulations to Thrive for using three huge, completely meaningless nutrition buzzwords in one paragraph! What a feat!...
So THRIVE’s claim is essentially meaningless...
I mean, if I was gullible and not well-versed in science, they might convince me to spend tons of money using this upselling, ‘go hard or go home’ tactic. But me being who I am, I just get a headache looking at the relentless ‘convince you to spend more and more of your money to get an even better result’ BS on the site.
Thrive’s Forslean® is basically a herb called Coleus Forskohlii, which has not been shown in any reputable studies to cause weight loss... What they’ve basically done is throw a bunch of ingredients together... But none of this evidence has been studied in trials using a patch delivery system. And neither has Thrive. Oh, I already said that. Just checking that you get that..no evidence!
The THRIVE shake is super low in calories and I can’t find anything in it of any value. What’s it’s purpose, anyways? I can’t figure it out. Eat real food.
There is really no compelling evidence that any of the ingredients in THRIVE cause weight loss."
It's tempting to quote the whole article, but I think this covers most of it sufficiently. I can see why Abby Langer writes for the Huffington Post with such great insight.
Iron Beaver Fitness
Iron Beaver Fitness writes: Scam DuJour: Thrive by Le-Vel. One of my favorite quotes is at the beginning when they quote Le-Vel's website and come to the conclusion that the product is irrelevant:
"Le-Vel was created and envisioned with a greater purpose, a premium plan. This plan is not to create a product, or a product line, but to build a global brand, a new icon." - Le-vel's website (https://le-vel.com/brand/philosophy)
Le-Vel seems to have threatened them with a lawsuit for hosting images of the products ingredients. Clearly an editorial is allowed to display such images by fair use, but it doesn't stop Le-Vel from attempting to sue them.
Plant City Observer
Plant City Observer has an article on Le-Vel Thrive titled "Don't waste your money on fitness fallacies." Here are some notable quotes from sports editor Justin Kline:
"After spending part of my last summer in college convincing a roommate that his Vemma energy drinks were part of an illegal pyramid scheme (which was actually proven to be true last year), I thought I was in the clear. But on Friday, a good friend hit me up about some energy patches... A quick Google search will tell you that these patches are part of the THRIVE eight-week fitness system, an initiative of the Le-Vel company. And a quick look at the Le-Vel website shows that it’s a similar kind of multi-level marketing company that Vemma was sold through.
Add in the fact that you’re buying product for yourself, as well as to sell to others, and that these companies often ask you to travel and buy tickets to conferences, and you could easily end up losing more money than you make.
But, this isn’t a business column. The other reason I can’t stand things like this is because the science behind them often disproves them. Essentially, there’s a chance that you’re losing money on simple bandage patches, glorified Saran wrap and smoothies you could make from the grass in your back yard."
But What About the Business of Le-Vel?
Le-vel has a "refer 2 and you get yours for free" program. Given the financial information above, it seems to me that it is like convincing two people to buy a Honda Civic for $100,000 so that you can yours for free. Any company would happily do that because they are sending out $60K worth of cars to bring in $200,000 in cash.
This encourages people to throw two people under the bus financially to get free product for themselves. I think that's pretty selfish.
These kinds of programs highlight how overpriced the products are. Obviously the company couldn't stay in business giving it away for free.
The rest of the Le-vel compensation plan looks like every other MLM/pyramid scheme that I've covered. There's the requirement to be Qualified and Active, which means that you have to buy product yourself or sell enough of it each month. As mentioned above, the pricing is banana pants crazy, which is one of a few reasons why no one would buy a MLM product from you. That means you are typically going to be left paying for itself, which makes it look like a Pay to Play scheme.
Le-vel seems to have the same car "bonus" as other MLMs. The specifics of the car bonus are left out of the compensation brochure. Typically an MLM company requires you to get a lease in your name and reimburses you as long as you maintain the level. However, as many ViSalus distributors found out, when the pyramid implodes they are left with an expensive lease in their name, no bonus from the company, and little income from the business. It's a path to financial ruin
However, the most insane part of the Le-vel "reward" plan is the Waiting Room which you can find at the bottom of this PDF. You can place newly recruited people under other people you have recruited in the past. This is the kind of thing that only makes sense in the world of MLM.
If you recruit a person, they should go under you. You should get the rewards for that work. It simply doesn't make sense to give away those rewards to someone else. Thrive's brochure is extremely lacking in details (as you can see), and it wastes value space with women in bikinis, beaches, hot air balloons, etc. Instead the Rewards Plan suggests that this Waiting Room concept allows for "very strategic team building." (Tip: whenever you see "team" in MLM, substitute the words "pyramid" to describe the recruitment hierarchy.)
The compensation plan clearly focuses the rewards on people with the most volume in their downline, not sales to outside people. According to these FTC guidelines, that focus would appear to make Thrive a pyramid scheme. Here's what the FTC says,
"Not all multilevel marketing plans are legitimate. If the money you make is based on your sales to the public, it may be a legitimate multilevel marketing plan. If the money you make is based on the number of people you recruit and your sales to them, it’s not. It’s a pyramid scheme. Pyramid schemes are illegal, and the vast majority of participants lose money."
If you need more information on this, this video is very helpful:
Le-Vel Manufacturing Facebook Popularity?
One of the things that most people seem to complain about is how overzealous Le-Vel distributors flood their Facebook. It's one thing if people are genuinely interested and sharing a product they love. It's another thing when they coordinate all their distributors to flood Facebook all at once.
Someone passed along their "Rise and Thrive" attempt coming on Dec. 10th at 8AM CST. See this:
(Click For Larger Version)
Of course the Le-Vel leaders want to keep this very quite so that it seems like it is naturally going viral. Overall, it's pretty harmless, but I'm not a fan of secret cult manipulations.
If you've read this far, I appreciate your dedication. Whether you found what you were looking for or not in the article above, I want to help you with your financial situation. It's what I do.
Here are two things you can do to put yourself in a better financial position:
- Create an Emergency Fund - Digit.co squirrels small amounts of money from your checking checking account to its account. That automatically builds an emergency fund. You don't have to think about it and you'll never notice the small amount of money being moved. In five months, I've squirreled away $500. Digit is entirely free.
- Track Your Money - Over the years, I've gathered so many financial accounts. Banks, Brokerages, Loans, I got multiple of them all. The best software for tracking them all is Personal Capital. You can't get to your destination if you don't know where you are to start. Personal Capital gives you that... and, like Digit, it is completely free.
For more visit my five minute financial fixes article. If neither of the above is helpful, I'm sorry. I appreciate you for just being here. The person recruiting you has a financial incentive to present only one side of the story. Kudos to you for searching for more information to make an informed decision.
Final Thoughts on Le-Vel Thrive
Between the extremely expensive products, dubious marketing, and what appears to be a pyramid scheme (see aforementioned FTC guidelines), I think it is clear that Le-vel Thrive is a scam. (For more on scams see: What is a Scam Anyway?)
I think consumers should make better use of $2000 or more a year... and certainly shouldn't push others to spend that kind of money. Don't try to convince yourself that a pyramid scheme is a legitimate business. Don't try to convince yourself that you are helping people by inflicting a significant financial burden on them. If you are really interested in helping them, suggest some of the products that I mentioned in the article (or other equivalent ones from non-pyramid scheme companies) that are reasonably priced.
Finally, I'd like to make a special pleading for the FTC (SEC or other government agency) to look into Le-Vel and ensure all its practices are legal. In the past I've found that the FTC simply works to slow in catching MLM/pyramid scheme fraud. For example, it took a decade and millions of lost dollars for the FTC to catch Fortune High-Tech's MLM pyramid scheme. More recently it took nearly a decade for the FTC to halt Vemma for being a pyramid scheme which claimed to be a legal MLM.
In each case, consumers found out years later that they were scammed out of hundreds millions of dollars (in aggregate). I agree with Former FTC Economist Peter Vander Nat, Ph.D. in calling for a federal pyramid scheme rule as the status quo is not effective in eliminating pyramid schemes until the damage is already done.
Consumers can make a complaint with the FTC here.
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